Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Hiroshima-Nagasaki Feature—Issue 56, August 2015)

Brenda Iijima

The Gaia Principle suggests that the earth is a self-sustaining and self-regulating organism. Coevolution of the geosphere and biosphere has led to complex interrelations that are more often symbiotic than antagonistic. I look to this premise for insight and bearing. This is a world view shared, in various complementary forms by First Peoples, a view mostly discredited by white western ontologies. Thanks to the work of microbiologist Lynn Margulis and chemist James Lovelock who developed a version of this theory, the Gaia Principle is experiencing a greater reception. The earth’s atmosphere of approximately 21 percent oxygen is maintained by corresponding processes—an ideal state that allows for combustibility but not full-on conflagration unless artificial means are employed to create weapons of mass destruction based on a system of military-industrialism governed by capital and festering in hate and inequality.

Everything was black, had vanished into the black dust, was destroyed. Only the flames that were beginning to lick their way up had any color. From the dust that was like a fog, figures began to loom up, black, hairless, faceless. They screamed with voices that were no longer human. Their screams drowned out the groans rising everywhere from the rubble, groans that seemed to rise from the very earth itself. (Hisako Matsubara, Cranes at Dusk)

The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “transform[ed] whole cities into crematoria” as Ann Druyan describes in her essay, “At Ground Zero in Hiroshima.” Racial hatred made it possible for a nation to proudly engineer two unprecedented mass death events. Harry Truman, 33rd president who was representative of the executive decision to drop the bombs is well documented for his racist views. As a younger man, he wrote in a 1911 letter to his wife, Bess: “I think one man is as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.” Truman was also a casual member of Ku Klux Klan—affiliation was status quo for politicians of the time. He inherited the office of the President on April 12th, 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage causing his death.. In limbo and unprepared Truman appointed James Byrnes (who felt all along he was the likelier candidate for Vice President, but Roosevelt and the Democratic party passed him up) as his closest foreign policy advisor—Byrnes soon became Secretary of State during the Truman administration, and although he wasn’t a Ku Klux Klan member (they snubbed him for being Roman Catholic and in retaliation he banned public cross burning and mask wearing except on Halloween) he was a full-fledged segregationist who was instrumental in blocking national anti-lynching laws, claiming that lynching would hold in check the Negro in the South.

Anti-Japanese discrimination was widespread in the United States long before the war, as exemplified by immigration restrictions the government imposed upon the Japanese (as well as other Asians). During WW2, Japanese-American property was confiscated and Japanese-American civilians were placed in concentration camps under despicable conditions in desert locations for the duration of the war while American citizens of German and Italian descent were not.

A supremacist world view gives the delusional impression that people are so remarkably different from one another as to deserve catastrophic death. The atomic bombs were dropped on highly populated urban centers, not strategic military targets. No warnings were given to the Japanese civilians. Instead of seeking a diplomatic resolution or waiting until the Soviet Union entered Japan (which would take place on August 15th as was agreed at the Potsdam Conference by Stalin, Churchill and Truman weeks before the bombs were dropped) the United States took unprecedented action and leveled two densely populated urban centers that they had been purposely spared air bombing so that the effects of the megaton bombs would show in stark relief. Byrnes and the Interim Committee (a secret group of politicians, scientists and military personal who advised Truman on matters of the atomic bomb) urged the President to drop the bombs as soon as possible. They knew what these weapons were capable of. Truman’s Secretary of War, Henry Stimson’s April 25th, 1945 Memorandum to the President opened with the following warning: “Within four months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city.” His concerns were overshadowed by Byrnes’ enthusiasm. The Trinity tests of July, 1945 in the Nevada desert confirmed the devastating possibilities.

The official story is a hegemonic myth patrolled by special interests.

We are up against fraudulent and forlorn histories. We become isolated in untruth.

I look long and hard at the photo of the young svelte white men posed in front of the Enola Gay before it set out on its path to unload Little Boy onto Hiroshima in the early morning of August 6th, 1945 and another photo of similarly young white men proudly gazing into the camera lenses in the foreground of The Bock’s Car which delivered the Fat Man onto Nagasaki on August 9th—seemingly oblivious of the total suffering they would unleash with the technological entity in their care—or relishing the ability to totalize. Their quiescence and satisfaction speaks to the ideology that propelled these atrocities—a white supremacist world view that didn’t pause to consider what it unleashed, unleashing as it did, a grand gesture of empire.

And with this catastrophic radioactive signature in our atmosphere the we who are all animals embarked on a new time that involves total death and destruction at the press of a button or a command, harkening in an era based on a mechanized industrial military capitalist platform that knows no bounds, the death drive operates it: cynically driven to understand life as expendable to life. To my knowledge, since WWII, we as a nation have waged war exclusively against people of color, within in our own country and abroad.

A possible task of the poet is to arrive at a critical threshold and act bold enough to contend with fraudulent versions of reality—to engage as witness and as translator of reality—conveying deep seated meanings concerning what has been trivialized or ignored. Official myths are false boundaries. The bravado of these myths recirculate through the corporeal social continuum, a damaging transfusion of epigenetic overload.

July 3rd, 2015, Brooklyn, NY


Melissa K. Nelson, Editor, Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future.

Lynn Margulis, Symbiotic Planet: A New Look At Evolution.

James Lovelock, Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth.

Hisako Matsubara, Cranes at Dusk.

Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death and the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” An International Anthology of Writings from Antiquity to the Present.

Herbert Shapiro, White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery.

Jason Morgan Ward, Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936–1965.

Jerrold M. Packard, American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow.

Chris Myers Asch, The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland.

Peter J. Kuznick, “We Can Learn a lot from Truman the Bigot,” Los Angeles Times.

Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise.

Peter Jennings, “Hiroshima: Why the Bomb was Dropped.”